NBC10 - Lu Ann Cahn
Watchdog groups call into question why a Philadelphia Municipal Judge who is married to a police officer is allowed to hear a case where a former officer was accused of assault. NBC10's Lu Ann Cahn talks to a lawyer who defends the judge and a watchdog group that questions the policy.
Philadelphia's police commissioner, watchdog groups and the court of public opinion are questioning why a Philadelphia judge who is married to a Philadelphia police officer was able to rule on a case in which a former Philly officer was accused of striking a woman -- a moment caught on camera.
Philadelphia District Judge Patrick Dugan acquitted former lieutenant Jonathan Josey of assault. Dugan is married to a 9th District Philadelphia Police officer and NBC10 learned through financial disclosure reports that Dugan’s mortgage is through the Police and Fire Credit Union. Those connections led to some critics to question if the judge could be impartial while ruling in the case against Josey.
“That is something that when I heard it certainly is troubling,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
It’s unknown if another judge would have ruled the same way as Dugan did. Dugan said Tuesday that the video, which appears to clearly show Josey striking Aida Guzman at last year’s Puerto Rican Day festivities, "didn’t tell the whole story."
NBC10's Lu Ann Cahn talked to people Wednesday about Dugan’s connections and it appears that the elected judge has never been accused of playing favorites in the past.
“I know Judge Dugan, he's certainly a person of character and has never had any issues before,” said Councilman James Kenney. “He has a good reputation.”
After Dugan received dozens of critical comments on his Facebook page he took down the page.
“I think it’s nothing but sour grapes,” said attorney Fortunato Perri Jr. who represented Josey.
Perri described Dugan as a “hardworking, well-respected member of the bench.”
Despite that reputation as a good judge, watchdog groups and even the commissioner himself said that the appearance of fairness was crucial to this case and that the not-guilty verdict could be tarnished because of Dugan’s connections.
“That’s when strong consideration should be given to having someone review a case that cannot be viewed as being partial or bias in any way, which means, having a relative or someone close to you on the force would be something you have to consider,” Ramsey said.
“This case illustrates why we need tighter ethics laws and more specific code of conduct for judges telling them when they need to recuse themselves,” said James Browning, associate director of non-profit, non-partisan watchdog group Pennsylvania Common Cause.
A spokeswoman for Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams told Cahn that his office never asked if the judge hearing Josey’s case had any connections to the police department because they treated Josey’s case like any other misdemeanor assault case.
People posted questions about Dugan's involvement to Facebook and not everyone sees this as any other case since it involved a cop apparently hitting a woman on a video that was posted to YouTube and viewed more than 1.5 million times worldwide.
“What is different here is that the world is paying attention,” said Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of the bi-partisan watchdog group Committee of Seventy.
There is a sometimes cozy relationship between some judges and police, Cahn said. And, it would be impossible to know if Dugan’s relationships played a role in his judgment.
“I think it's inappropriate for a Philadelphia judge to hear this case and that a judge from outside the county should have been brought in,” Stalberg said.
“If a judge is fair the judge is going to be fair, it doesn’t matter who they’re married to or who they have a drink with,” Perri said.
Dugan didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania did, however, release this statement:
"Judge Dugan is prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct from making any public statements about this or any past or future rulings. For this reason, Judge Dugan has and will continue to decline requests for comment about the verdict in the case. This same prohibition applies to all judges of the First Judicial District. Judge Dugan's verdict and his statement are a matter of public record, as is the transcript containing all the testimony which was presented in the courtroom for Judge Dugan’s consideration. Each is available to the media..."
As for Josey possibly trying to get his job back, Ramsey said he wouldn’t have fired him in the first place if he thought he still should be a cop.